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Virtual Paralegal's Gutsy Message: "BigFirm, Listen Up"

StaffPamela Pamela Starr, a virtual paralegal who says she is located anywhere her laptop is, had a strong response to my post this weekend about Jones Day's decision to lay-off non-attorney staff. The 2500 lawyer firm announced last week that it was letting go an unspecified number of legal staff because the jobs can be done by voice mail, e-mail, iPhones and other electronic devices.

Pamela, who started her virtual paralegal business in 2008, thinks that major law firms are far behind the learning curve when it comes to how business is conducted today. In her response, she says: 

Paralegal Paradigm Shift – An Open Letter to Jones Day (and BigLaw) re: Downsizing

"Now that the news has hit that Jones Day has laid off staffers due to, as your spokesperson has said, “(The) universal adoption of smart phones, voice mail and email enables (and requires) lawyers to be more self-sufficient.” Allow me to provide you with the opportunity to take that logic a step further – hire virtual paralegals to fill the gap.

Virtual paralegals saw this change coming several years ago. As a creditors’ rights specialist, I saw exactly what was about to happen to the economy. However, I did not anticipate the negative impact it would have on law firms. I took the leap and left the relatively safe haven of my law firm job and decided to go virtual.

Your spokesperson is absolutely correct: technology has made it possible for attorneys to be more self-sufficient. But face it, attorneys are still more efficient when supported by talented, credentialed, professional paralegals.

Well, here we are. Certified, bona fide paralegals working from our homes and laptops and still producing exemplary work for a fraction of the cost of a full time staff member. Think about it … look us up.

If you want a top notch Creditors’ Rights / Commercial Transactions paralegal, contact me, Pamela Starr of StarrParalegals, LLC ( If you need an expert in another area of law, let me know … I have connections."

You certainly can't fault her for being assertive and going after business.  "Chere’s article hit a nerve," she says. " It has been obvious to me for years that the legal industry was moving toward being less office-centric. I am surprised that it took this long for ‘big law’ to realize that its lawyers and staff are no longer bound by brick and mortar, but rather are electronically tethered to their jobs. It is a shame that ‘big law’ has failed to see that it simply needs to modify its business model to accommodate this change in thinking and has chosen to lay off their support staff."

Ouch.  Then again, I am curious:  Do law firm administrators listen when paralegals speak?  Or, do they wait until past predictions are reality and scramble to adjust? 

Here is Pamela advice for those interested in becoming a virtual paralegal, a hot new field:

  • Find a mentor and utilize the resources that have been developed over the years.
  • Never be afraid to ask questions.
  • Always be professional and courteous.
  • Never stop learning and growing.
  • Network, network, network.

    Go get 'em, tiger.

Are You Ripe for a Lay-Off?

MP900314107[1] Jones Day, the #4 firm in the AM 200 with 2,500 lawyers and 32 offices announced last week that it axed an unspecified number of support staff in its Cleveland office.

Further, it announced that it let go 32 staffers in its Los Angeles and Dallas offices. Recession?  Cash flow problems? Too few clients? Too little work?  Guess again.  According to the firm's spokesperson,  “(The) universal adoption of smart phones, voice mail and email enables (and requires) lawyers to be more self-sufficient."  In other words, emerging technology can strip you of a job in no time and leave you waiting in the unemployment line for 26 weeks.

This sad news is reminiscent of other positions going by the wayside as the world moves forward: telephone answering operators, messengers, travel agents, newspaper journalists, and printers (the people kind). Jones Day also announced it was continuing to hire guessed it.....lawyers - and plenty of them.

Does this sound the alarm in your head asking if your mother was right?  "Sheldon, why are you going to be a paralegal?  Why don't you make your mother happy and go to law school?"  No.  What it means is it is time to start climbing up the ladder, making sure you generate plenty of profit for the firm and get to the assignments that require brainpower.  No more lower level clerical duties!  It's time to start aiming for more sophisticated work.  Drafting, interfacing with the client, research, technology, contracts, risk management, compliance, securities, assisting at trial and more.

Once a major firm such as Jones Day publicly announces a startling and significant move toward cutting costs, the legal field takes notice.  Why?  Simple.  Competition.  I firmly believe that one of the reasons that paralegals caught on so well in the beginning is that the firm down the street had one and was able to brag that they were saving the client time, money and costs.  That meant the firm up the street had to have one.  And so on and so on and so on.

George Jetson may have been right.  The robot finally takes your job. This is how trends start particularly after a Great Recession where the landscape screams "cost savings", not "divine decadence".  Keep yourself at the forefront of knowledge.  Learn the latest anything that is useful and sustaining. Ride the horse in the direction it is going.  Keep paralegals on the list of the top 20 fastest growing professions by constantly evolving and pushing forward.  

PS:  Don't miss KNOW Magazine''s fantastic webinar series including "How I Did It: A Conversation with Laura Zubulake together with The Organization of Legal Professionals.

We've outsmarted ourselves. Jones Day, #4 firm in the US reports staff cuts due to emerging technology - voicemail, email, iphones. So, if I interpret that correctly, George Jetson was right. The robot finally takes your job.

Why Would You Get Hit By a Bus? (And other uses of cliches)

J0178843 Today must have been the day for buses.  On at least three occasions, I read the phrase, "In case I get hit by a bus."  My mother used to tell me that.  Only she added that I had to be sure to be wearing clean underwear just in case.

I commented to my husband that I was reading a lot of cliches lately.  He asked me, "Why do people think they would get hit by a bus?  Why not get hit by a bicycle?  Or a food truck?  Why a bus?"  I didn't have the answer. I did think it was a good question.  But I really didn't have an answer.

Which got me to thinking:  why do people use so many cliches?  A cliche, for example, is saying, "bless you" every time someone sneezes.  Do you really mean God should jump off that comfy couch in the sky and personally bless you?  Do you pay any attention deep down inside when someone says "bless you" in response to your sneeze?  No.  You don't.  You say, "Thank you" to be polite. The exchange is done and frankly, immediately forgotten.

It's the same when using cliches as you write.  In business communications, readers do not pay attention to cliches.  The mind, having seen the phrase so many times, is desensitized. It skips right over the phrase, sometimes ignoring it completely.  If you want people in your firm to pay attention and think that you are a leader, you're going to have to change the way you write.

Here are my four biggest cliche peeves:

1. Enclosed please find.  Now, really.  Would you talk this way?  Would you actually walk into a partner's office, hand him or her a file and say, "Enclosed please find"?  I doubt it.  Write the way you talk.  It's much better to say, "I am attaching a copy of the blankblank."

2.    Please don't hesitate to call.  Practically all letters explaining anything ends with this boring phrase.  Would someone hesitate to call if they had a question?  Nope.  Not in this day and age of instant response.  It's much better to say..........nothing.

3. As you know.  This is dangerous.  You are making an assumption that the reader must certainly know about the issue you are about to discuss.  What if they don't?  All you have accomplished is to point out how ignorant they are.  They may feel uncomfortable.  "Gee," they think.  "I should have known that." Or, "Wow.  Someone is leaving me out of the loop."  Instead of your reader appreciating your communication, now they are not feeling so great about what they have just read.  Hmmm....not exactly the goal.

4.   If you will.  This cliche started about 10 - 15 years ago. I don't know who started it but if I see them, I am going to lodge my complaint -  in writing.  I can't think of another phrase that emphasizes uncertainty or that questions your confidence.  "If you will?" If you will what?  I hear that dang phrase on the radio almost every day. All this phrase does is to undermine any strong statement you make, if you will.

That's only four of thousands of cliches. I have a list. My suggestion is: if you're going to use a cliche, use one that is more recent - like, "voted off the island."  Yeah.  I like that.

PS: For a paralegal webinar on The Brave New Writer: Using Corporate Storytelling to Achieve Leadership, go to  

The OLP's first Meet 'N Greet is tomorrow at Milbank Tweed, downtown Los Angeles, 7:00 a.m. Come and meet! We'll greet! We'll even feed you. Really. We will.

Ah, geez. Give me a break. I just got here.

Man surprised Just when I thought that the Great Recession was past us, bam! publishes an article announcing,"Law Firms Predict More Layoffs Among Non-Equity Partners, Support Staff."

I mean, a gal can't catch a break over here.  According to the article, "A new survey released Tuesday by national consulting firm, Altman Weil shows that law firms nationwide still expect to conduct layoffs in 2010, though at a lesser rate than in 2009.

The survey, titled "Law Firms in Transition 2010," said 67 percent of law firms cut support staff, 43 percent cut paralegals and 44 percent cut associates last year, while only 25 percent cut equity partners and 26 percent cut non-equity partners. The firms polled said they believe there are more layoffs on the horizon and that support staff and non-equity partners remain in the crosshairs for the bulk of them."

For once, just for once, I want to be ahead of the game.  Not the last one dusting off the keyboard and  turning off the lights. So, what's an astute paralegal to do?  Look for warning signs.  Bail before the ship sinks.  Dust your resume off, get your Go-to-Meetin'-Sunday-Best suit out of mothballs and rev up the ole Packard sitting in the garage.  For once, we're not going to be the last to know, the first out the door or the one who forces herself to keep walking past those open windows.  I'm going to look for the ten top warning signs that lay-offs are coming.

1. Partners and top Administrators are suddenly doing a lot of closed door meetings.  I mean a lot.  When they emerge, they seem to hide the papers they went in with.

2. The budget gets thrown out the window and new severe cuts are made.  Coffee is no longer offered, training dollars are gone and someone wearing Cobby Cuddler shoes and a girdle has appeared.  They say she is an efficiency expert but you know her as The Terminator.

3. There's a buzz in the office and it's not about growth.  People are gossiping.  Rumors abound about what partners are suddenly finding offers somewhere else, and it's not on your 14th floor.  In fact, the rumor mill is so thick with stories, the only way you know if something is true is if Millie, Mr. Vanilli's secretary, nods her head knowingly when approached with the latest in gossip.

4. People around you are disappearing.  They call these lay-offs.  You assume that they are dismissed because they had low billables, their work wasn't up to snuff or they didn't really fit in. However, revenue generating people seem to be staying.  Funny, though, how Suzi got a pink slip.  She's been here 12 years.  And wasn't Andy slated for retirement soon?

5. Associates are doing paralegal work; paralegals are doing secretarial work and secretaries are hardly working.  In other words, the entire firm's level of competency has slipped a level.  People are taking on lower level assignments because there's no work flowing in from the top.  Your best friend down the hall is scrambling to keep up her billables and just yesterday, spent the day taking staples out of some exhibits so the paper would go through the photocopy machine.  She billed six hours for that.

6. The firm isn't performing well.  It has lost a couple of major clients yet to be replaced.  A memo went out yesterday stating that minimum billable hours were going up but no one knows where to find the work.

7. People leave but their positions are not filled.  It's been six months since your colleague, John, left for another firm.  Yet, the firm seems to be taking a very long time to fill a run-of-the-mill, garden variety, 2 year litigation paralegal spot. Other paralegals have taken over John's workload and it seems as though John's position has suddenly vanished.

8. Your boss and other supervisors suddenly give you the cold shoulder.  What's up with that passive-aggressive behavior?  No more beer on Friday nights; no more chatting in the stairwells, just formal, professional shop talk. There's a lack of casual interaction. You begin to feel you've done something wrong. Three months later, you see your colleague's positon eliminated.  You're sure you are next.

9. Everyone's salary is frozen.  You don't think you'll see a cost of living increase this year and you can forget about that bonus.

10. There are no more job postings on your firm's website.  It's been a month since you've seen your firm's name in the recruiting section of The Times. You HR department suddenly refuses to pay recruiting fees and to top it all off, that new paralegal assistant you were promised six months ago - well, there's a hiring freeze now, so you're just going to have to wait.  In fact, the firm suddenly finds outsourcing a very attractive option.

Ahhhhh, come on, guys.  Not another round of layoffs!  I just got here.  My chair isn't even broken in, my coffee cup doesn't have any rings on the bottom and I just found the bathroom on the 3rd floor all by myself. To top it off, I just became eligible for the 401K plan.  C'mon, folks.  Give a gal a break here!




Ride the Horse in the Direction It's Going

When we accept a position, we are accepting the dream: that life will somehow be better with the upward mobility this job is sure to bring.  Rarely do we attribute disappointment or growing frustration with our own lack of personal responsibility for planning our career.

You may be one of a large group of paralegals experiencing tremendous job satisfaction but wondering how to advance in a field that is only in the beginning states of defining career paths. Many paralegals repeatedly state that they enjoy an intellectually stimulating environment, have challenging work and are part of a team.  It is the push forward to other areas that many paralegals find difficult.  These areas include higher salaries, moving up within a firm that has no vertical climb, negotiating for more sophisticated assignments, breaking that glass ceiling, or getting off the sticky floor.

The paralegal field is not necessarily an upward climb.  I mean, you're not ever going to make partner. And, only one or two people in your firm are going to get the manager's job.  Rather than climbing vertically up an invisible ladder, a paralegal's career climb is horizontal - outward. 

So, where do you go?  I've known paralegals and paralegal managers who have held the same type of position for 20, even 30 years. I guess that's ok in the job stability arena but highly intelligent human beings generally like to show some kind of defined, trackable upward growth. How do you identify what to do next?  If there is a next, that is.

Ride the horse in the direction it is going.  What events have taken place in the legal field that require new skills? What laws, technology, procedures, positions, trends have occurred in the past five years that you observe but are either totally ignorant or marginally aware of?  If you think that nothing really new applies to you because your firm is not currently applying anything up-to-the-minute to its current practice areas, I'll bet you also have an IBM Selectric typewriter hidden under your desk.

Take a brand new position:  eDiscovery Paralegal.  Not Litigation Paralegal.  eDiscovery. Highly specialized, knowledgeable in both substantive issues and technology, up on the latest, motivated, curious, and trained. eDiscovery - the hottest practice area to hit the legal field in decades. Take a look at a sample job description:

  • Thorough knowledge of electronic e-discovery process and e-discovery software, processes and methodologies.
  • Works with counsel and IT to compile data for e-discovery (and hard copy discovery).
  • Creates, implements and manages organizational tracking systems for document collection, review, analysis and management both on and off-site.
  • Familiar with EDRM and Sedona principles.
  • Knows the new Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
  • Understands processing, collection, review and presentation.
  • Researches and employs best practices for collection and processing of documentation for e-discovery.
  • Understands metadata.
  • Familiar with International eDiscovery.
  • Understands litigation holds, meet and confer, sanctions, duty to preserve.
  • Familiar with ethics & eDiscovery.
  • Works and interfaces with IT to provide assistance on processes related to litigation support.
  • Develops project plans/timelines and provides updates/status reports.
  • Manages and tracks projects and ensures deadlines are met.
  • Employs software tools and databases to translate electronic evidence into acceptable formats for e-discovery.
  • Conducts database searches - culling and extrapolating data using various methods (i.e. keyword searching, document relationships, date culling, privilege and responsiveness review, redaction, etc).
  • Runs queries for document review.
  • Inputs and manages data into the litigation support database.
  • Performs quality check of all data processed in the e-discovery system and develops QC tools to facilitate review and analysis of information prior to production.
  • Performs audits of databases.
The only way that you are going to avoid falling into the vicious circle of Stuck and Stumped is to reach out and undertake an educational journey.  Knowledge does not just come to you and on-the-job-training is hit and miss, at best. 

Start taking webinars, seminars.  Read books, articles, white papers.  Many of the legal vendors have excellent materials - although bear in mind that their ultimate goal is not education, it is to sell their product. 

Take the eDiscovery courses with The OLP.  They are offering three dynamic, online, interactive 8 week complete courses:  eDiscovery 101A: The Fundamentals; eDiscovery, The Next Level; and EDiscovery for Non-Legal Professionals.  Courses start July 19, July 20th and August 3rd with a team of seasoned instructors who care about your success.
Whatever you decide, look at the history of paralegals:  It is a myth that the paralegal who produces the highest quality work product will automatically get "promoted" to the next level. There are few promotions in this field. You're going to have to create your own.
To move forward, you must always demonstrate knowledge that others do not have.  That makes you unique enough to lead the group. No matter how hard you work, how good you are, or how much you want to move up, over or out, unless you capitalize on current going-ons, you're liable to go unnoticed. Ride the horse in the direction it is going.  You won't be sorry.

The First OLP Live Meeting on June 24th at 7 am to 8:30 am at Milbank Tweed, L.A. You are invited to attend. Meet 'n greet & have a great time. RSVP Seating limited.

You Can't Get Stuck If You're Going Nowhere


Let's face it. Who has a successful career without reaching a point of been there, done that, need more? Few people, I suspect. Otherwise, we'd all be going nowhere.

Self-motivation is not innate.  It's not inherited and it certainly is not granted by the paralegal fairy. It is, in fact, a characteristic that we either utilize or we don't.

I'm intrigued today by Barbara Haubrich, a Bakersfield, CA paralegal with 30 years of experience.  Barbara attended a seminar I gave nearly 10 years ago, remembered me and recently looked me up.  Gee, I hope I made a good impression.

Turns out, she has been quite busy motivating herself. Producing a slick, informative and valuable bi-weekly newsletter, The California Litigator, Barbara has new found success in creating a well-written and useful tool for paralegals.  Of course, I couldn't help but get into a conversation with her.  Her side of the conversation went something like this:

"I have 30 years experience in both insurance civil defense and plaintiff’s personal injury.  I have worked for the best civil defense attorney in Kern County, and have worked for 15 years for the oldest and most established personal injury firm in the San Joaquin Valley.  By working on “both sides” of the fence, I have a broad understanding of civil litigation.

I started the newsletter for several reasons.  About 10 years ago, I met you [Chere Estrin] in Bakersfieldfor a KCPA meeting and the Bakersfield Business Women’s Conference.  I thought how nice it would be to be a motivator like you.  I was a young supervisor of legal assistants, and applied many of your teachings to my style of supervision.  It was about that time that I started to branch out of the typical “law office support staff” setting.  I earned my CLA, CAS, and now my ACP. 

Once I obtained my CLA, I started to teach personal injury at our local university. That experience sparked me to  mentor the younger generation, but I did not know really how. What I had to offer was not motivational per se but my knowledge and experience in civil litigation.  The answer was right there with my family. My son is an up-and-coming legal assistant and he suggested that I write down and pass along what I’ve learned. 

The newsletter will be sent every other week with a target day of Thursday.  I do not anticipate the newsletter being difficult to keep up because I like to write.  Creating the website and shell for the newsletter was time consuming but now that it is done, I expect the newsletter will fall into a routine.

My target audience is paralegals and legal secretaries.  However, I feel that the newsletter will also benefit attorneys and students in paralegal studies programs.  My goal is to provide free information to legal support professionals.  Once the newsletter audience has increased, I plan to include very economical webinars.

By writing the newsletter, I can incorporate some of the articles into a handbook and bank of forms.  I hope to have the handbook published for law office use and/or a paralegal studies textbook.  I already have much of the information gathered from teaching personal injury law at California State University, Bakersfield.

My employer knows about my plans, and in fact, my two attorneys are recipients of the newsletter.  My employer has always been very supportive of any endeavor I have participated in.  I do not do anything in as a professional paralegal that does not include my employer’s permission and approval.

Barbara's Words of Wisdom:  If you are interested in doing a newsletter, just do it.  I was surprised at how easy it has been (so far), and the support I have received from my colleagues, friends, and Chere Estrin has been very inspirational.  I am a firm believer that if you do not take the first step, you will never get anywhere.  Take that step!"

I just love success stories.

PS:  Be sure to sign up for one of the three, all-new eDiscovery online, interactive dynamic 8 week courses through The OLP  (The Organization of Legal Professionals) and The Center for Advanced Legal Studies(an ABA approved paralegal program).  Talk about career opportunities!